Team Penske will have an extra day of data and running in its pocket going into next week’s GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma (Sunday, Sept. 17, 6:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN), following today’s test at Sonoma Raceway.
The release from the track is below.
Team Penske teammates Helio Castroneves, Josef Newgarden, Simon Pagenaud and Will Power completed a one-day test session at Sonoma Raceway on Thursday to prepare for the Verizon IndyCar Series championship race weekend at the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma, Sept. 15-17.
This marks a particularly important test session for the Team Penske drivers, as all four are in championship contention. Newgarden (560 points) leads the point standings by a slim three points ahead of Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon with teammates Castroneves (538), defending series champion Pagenaud (526) and 2014 series champion Power (492) also within reach of the championship.
“We’re in a good position with the points lead, but it’s not anything secure,” said Newgarden. “We’ve got to have a good weekend here and I think having a test day like today is always helpful. What we learned today we want to apply to the race weekend. Team Penske has always been strong here, so we’ve got to execute on that.”
Despite wet conditions on Thursday morning, the drivers were able to get on track at noon and complete approximately five hours of testing throughout the afternoon.
“It was a little bit misty this morning and a little bit cooler, so we didn’t start right away, but at the end of the day the entire Team Penske got a little taste of what it’s going to be like next week and were able to try some interesting things,” said 2008 Sonoma race winner Castroneves. “So, right now, we feel more prepared than ever, but things can always change.”
Double points will be awarded for the season finale, which will mark the 12th consecutive year the IndyCar Series championship has been decided in the final race. With a win, the 26-year-old Tennessean Newgarden would celebrate a first championship in his inaugural year driving for Hall of Fame owner Roger Penske, but that will be no small feat, as the four drivers trailing him each boast at least one win in wine country.
“You can only control so much within the championship,” said Newgarden, who has posted a best finish of sixth in Sonoma. “The only thing we can really do is try to focus on winning the race and do the best job we can with that. If we win the race, we win the championship and for us that’s the best thing, that we control our own destiny.”
Houston Supercross by the numbers: Five riders begin to gap the field
Chase Sexton stumbled in San Diego and Eli Tomac had a hard fall in Anaheim 2, but the Monster Energy Supercross numbers for Houston suggest they will continue to be the ones to beat in Houston. To do so, they will have to turn back challenges from another pair of riders who have swept the top five in the first three rounds and another with a worst finish of sixth.
There are reasons to believe Webb and Roczen can keep those streaks alive.
Webb is the only multiple winner at Supercross’ current Houston stadium. His pair of wins came in 2019 and 2021, the same year he won his two 450 championships.
Clinton Fowler points out this week, that Webb has carried that strength into 2023. Webb had a late surge in Anaheim 1, advancing from fifth to second in the final six laps. In San Diego, he set his ninth fastest lap with two to go and his eighth fastest on the final lap. He posted his fastest lap of Anaheim 2 on Lap 12 while the rest of the field did so on Lap 6 on average.
By comparison, Tomac set his 14th fastest lap on the final circuit in route to winning the Main at San Diego while he was trying to keep Webb at bay.
With a sixth at San Diego, Dylan Ferrandis barely missed sweeping the top five in his first three races as did Tomac with a sixth last week at Anaheim 2.
This will be the 46th year Supercross has visited Houston and with 55 races the city is tied for the second-most with Detroit.
Webb won most recently in 2021 in the final race of three held there that year as the series executed a strategy of racing in residencies to limit travel during height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Tomac and Justin Barcia also won in Houston in 2021.
Two privateers have started the season on a high note.
Joshua Cartwright and Joshua Varize have each made the last two Mains. Cartwright finished 18th in San Diego and 21st last week in Anaheim 2 – all while working fulltime as a Business Intelligence Analyst at the University of Texas, Dallas. Varize earned a top-15 (12th) in San Diego and was 21st in Anaheim 2 in his third season on a 450.
The numbers show none of the active 250 Supercross East riders have won in Houston, so no matter who steps on top of the box, there is going to be a fresh face. That is not surprising since most of the top competitors have not raced at this venue yet.
Michael Mosiman has a pair of top-fives there, however. His best finish was a second in the second 2021 race. Garrett Marchbanks scored a top-10 in his rookie season of 2019 in Houston.
In the 250 East division, Hunter Lawrence is one of the favorites to win the title now that Christian Craig has moved to 450s. Last year he had four wins and nine podiums, but failed to set a fast lap in a race.